Frankford decides against police department merger

In the wake of the departure of its police chief — its sole police officer — over the summer, Frankford officials and residents early this week continued to wrestle with how best to maintain an acceptable level of public safety in the town. But on Wednesday, Oct. 4, the Town announced via its Facebook page that it had decided not to move forward with a proposed merger between its police department and the neighboring Dagsboro police department.

“The Town has decided to not go forward with the police department merger with Dagsboro, based on resident concerns and budget limitations,” Town officials said on Wednesday. “The council will immediately begin evaluating other options for police coverage, including resident suggestions of hiring a new chief or contracting with the [Delaware] State Police for coverage. The council looks forward to resident input on this important decision. Thank you.”

At the Monday, Oct. 2, town council meeting, Dagsboro police officer Tyler Bare had introduced himself to the audience and explained that he was currently working part-time for Frankford as well, in an attempt to clear up some unfinished business left by the departure of former police chief Mark Hudson in June.

Bare said there were eight unfinished cases at that time and that he has cleared up two of them so far. He said he has also been able to get the Town’s three police vehicles “up and running” after they sat idle for several months.

“It’s a work in progress,” Bare said of his attempt to keep up somewhat of a police presence in the town and to deal with the now-dormant department’s paperwork.

Bare, who formerly worked as a police officer in Frankford, said, “My goal is, whether I return as an employee or not, all you have to do is hand the keys over” to whoever takes over the police department.

The Town in recent weeks had been considering a proposal from the Dagsboro Police Department to “unify” Dagsboro’s department with Frankford, which would have resulted in six officers between the two towns. Frankford officials had said the Town would have to raise property taxes an estimated average of $232 per year per household to fund such an endeavor.

Town Council Treasurer Marty Presley said on Monday that he believed the Town had three options: proceed with the unification of a rebooted Frankford police department with the existing Dagsboro department; hire a police chief who would be both administrator and police officer; or rely on the Delaware State Police for coverage of the town.

While Bare has been working in Frankford on his days off from his Dagsboro police patrols, he said he was spending most of that time in the office doing administrative work. But he noted that now that the Frankford patrol cars are functioning, he would try to at least get out on the road occasionally.

“We asked Tyler to come in on a temporary basis to get us over this hump,” Presley explained on Monday.

Bare said then that although state police troopers are responding to calls within the town, while he is working part-time there, “Anything that happens in this town, I do follow up.”

“This police department is going to be fully-functioning by the time I’m done with it,” Bare said on Monday.

When asked for clarification about the circumstances surrounding Hudson’s departure, Presley had said, “He gave us less than a week’s notice,” but added that, contrary to rumors, “we did not ask for his resignation. I don’t know where these rumors are coming from, but that’s not true,” Presley said.

He said that, in recent weeks, both Bare and Dagsboro Police Chief Clifford Toomey had gone to Dover to speak with state officials in an effort to help Frankford retain state grants for its police department while it is in flux.

“Things are just in the works,” Bare said on Monday. “The wheels are turning.”

Council President Joanne Bacon at Monday’s meeting said the Town would be looking at “something along the lines of 56 percent” as a property tax increase if the Town decided to merge with Dagsboro’s police department. “We do need to get together as a town and as a council” and review the pros and cons of the different options for the future of the police department, she said.

At the meeting, resident Jerry Smith recommended that the council simply “look at what didn’t work before” and try not to replicate that.

“I don’t think the residents of this town can afford almost 60 percent” more town taxes, Smith said. He recommended that the Town look at which days and times seem to be the “most problematic” and aim for police coverage during those times, at a minimum.

Resident Tom Ensor took the opportunity Monday to revisit the situation of the Town’s water tower and its ongoing issues with Mountaire regarding water service, calling it “the elephant in the room.”

Presley expressed concern about drug dealers in the town, particularly with the reduced police patrols. “I’ve personally witnessed drug deals going down next to 4- and 5-year-olds” in the town park, Presley said.

Council Vice President Greg Welch said on Monday that the police-chief-only scenario has seen quite a bit of turnover in the position. “We’ve been struggling with that,” he said.

“When did we begin struggling?” Smith asked.

“I don’t believe it started recently,” Presley replied.

Resident Dean Esham said Monday, “Probably the best way to go is to have a chief and a part-time officer.”

Another resident, Robbie Murray, said he was worried about the expense of hiring officers.

“When did it become in-vogue to not live within your budget?” he asked.

Esham expressed concern that the Town might be low-balling the cost of the unification with Dagsboro’s police department while also overestimating the cost of having one officer.

“What you’re doing is not right,” Esham said, before angrily exiting Monday’s meeting.

“What I’ve heard is that the preference is to hire a police chief,” Murray said. “The debatable part is whether that makes financial sense” or whether unifying with Dagsboro would be the better choice.

“It’s a hell of an idea,” he said of the two towns joining forces. “It’s just not the right time.”

“It’s a very serious issue for the Town,” Bacon said. And while she added, “We need more people to speak out,” as of Wednesday, at least one of the three potential scenarios for solving the Town’s police problem had already been ruled out by the council.

With the Town’s request for more resident input on the issue coming as part of the announcement of that decision, consideration of the issue, public input and council discussion was expected to continue going forward, with no solution yet in sight.